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Vacations and Travel Don't Need to Break the Bank

Whether you’re retired or just ready to take some time off work, you might be feeling the vacation bug this time of year. Recently there was a post in the Smart401k blog about taking a staycation to help save money. Staycations can be great, but if you’re like me, sometimes you just need to get away.

Expenses can quickly add up when you’re traveling – lodging, food, plane tickets or gas, car rental. Before you start stressing too much about the costs of heading out of town, there are a number of ways you can save money and make an amazing trip relatively inexpensive. 

Travelling during retirement or time off workPhoto attributions at bottom

Travel Costs – The cost of getting to your destination can be one of the most expensive parts of a vacation, especially with gas prices and airfares rising. But with a little bit of planning and flexibility, there are ways to save.

  • If your schedule is flexible, travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as plane tickets are usually cheaper on mid-week flights (and the planes and airports are usually less crowded!).
  • Research air miles credit cards – look for introductory bonus miles. Just a few weeks ago, I saw an airline that ran an appealing promotion: 50,000 miles for signing up and another 50,000 miles if you spent $2,500 in the first 3 months. While I don’t recommend opening credit cards solely to get airline miles, I think this is something to consider if you have good credit and won’t overspend. Don’t set yourself up for failure – if you know you won’t be responsible with the credit card, don’t apply.
  • Use flight aggregator sites like, and to search flight prices on multiple airlines. You can often find last-minute package deals that include flights, hotels and sometimes rental cars.

Lodging Costs – The place you stay can be another big chunk of expenses when you’re on a vacation; again, with a little searching and patience, you can save money.

  • Look for hotel chains that offer free nights. Many hotels are currently offering deals like stay two nights and get the third night free. Research whether any hotels at your destination are offering a similar deal by searching the internet – and don’t be shy about simply calling the hotel to ask.
  • Consider the great outdoors. National Parks are great places to visit during the summer and can be a relaxing change from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Campsites vary from park to park, but a price of around $20 or $30 sure beats that $200/night hotel room.
  • If you’re truly willing to wait until the last minute, use a website like or to snag last-minute deals on unbooked hotel rooms. You could save 50% or more.
  • Investigate bed and breakfast inns. If you’re traveling in Europe, these are often an excellent way to stay someplace nice that’s far cheaper than a hotel. In the U.S., prices can vary drastically by market. Sometimes B&Bs are more expensive than hotels, so do your research.

Meals, Entertainment & All the Rest – Though they’re not as expensive as airfare and hotels, small costs can add up quickly and become a big part of your travel budget.

  • Use sites like and to get discounts on restaurants and attractions. I’m signed up to get Groupon emails from all the cities I’ll be traveling to this summer. You never know when a good deal will come along.
  • Ask the locals! Some of the coolest places and best sights are off the beaten path. Plus, these spots tend to be cheaper than major tourist attractions.
  • Try to stay someplace that offers free breakfast. Have a big meal early in the morning so you can get by with just a small snack around lunchtime. This makes dinner your only big meal expense for the day.
  • See if there are grills at a nearby park or beach – some hotels offer them for guest use. It’s cheaper than a restaurant, you don’t have to worry about the crowds and a picnic is a great way to end the day.

These ideas are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to saving money on your vacation. Please share your travel tips so everyone (myself included) can end the summer with some extra change in our pockets.

Joe McCulloch

Smart401k Senior Investment Adviser

Photo attributions: Eiffel Tower by Chris Willis, man in water by Hazel Hambidge, beach by sektordua, cabin by anoldent, Bay Bridge by Peter Gorges


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About Smart401k

Smart401k is a web-based investment advisory service providing unbiased recommendations to help people invest in employer-sponsored retirement plans. Smart401k provides service to nearly 11,000 clients who collectively have more than $2 billion in assets. Plan participants receive personalized, fund-specific investment recommendations and the support of professional investment advisers available to discuss all investment questions. Based in Overland Park, KS, Smart401k is online at